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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Set Your Goals before You Hit the Casino Floor

21 March 2000

What's most vital to know before entering the casino? How to tell which slots or tables are getting hot? Secret combinations of bets that overcome house advantage? Decisions that maximize expectation in games like blackjack, video poker, or Let It Ride? Where the cash advance machines are located? Ways to manage money to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and get "comps" worth more than your action warrants? None of the above!

What's most vital to know is whether you want a small chance at a big win, a high likelihood of a moderate profit, or something in between? The rest follows. Particular amounts and probabilities, machines or tables to play, and specific bets and strategies. Of course, "the rest" gets rather involved -- making gambling a far more enigmatic enterprise than most enthusiasts envisage.

Here's an example. Say you've set aside $500 as casino mad money. You'll gamble with it, knowing you won't stop unless it grows to at least $50,000 or you go down trying. Perhaps you figure you can always scrape up $500 -- the wad in your sock drawer proves it. But you realize you'll never amass $50,000 except by getting lucky in a casino, lottery, or tobacco settlement -- life just ain't long enough. And $50,000 would do nicely to pay off the mortgage, send your kid to college without falling into hock, or get your mother-in-law off your case. So, forget the la-dee-da about going to the casino for the entertainment or the fine art. This is why you're going. This, and the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Converting $500 to $50,000 is formidable but not futile. However, not every gambling option can get you there.

First, no matter what or how you play, the odds against your success will always exceed the ratio of your win goal to your stake. A $50,000 boon on a $500 bankroll is a 100-to-1 return. So you're fighting odds steeper than 100-to-1. If you're unwilling to accept this handicap, shoot for less or start with more. But, decide in advance. It's OK to change horses in mid-session by tolerating less win, a mistake to do so by risking greater loss.

Second, recognize time constraints. Within the span of a single casino visit, only certain classes of bets can boost you from $500 to $50,000. You can find slots or progressive table games paying $50,000 mother lodes on small bets. Less generous jackpots won't do unless your once-in-a-lifetime score happens twice in a row. Higher payoffs are alluring, but correspondingly tougher to win. Alternately, you can bet on longshots such as 35-to-1 spots at roulette, but you've got to parlay winnings after every hit. Moreover, the maximum bet the casino will book must be enough to pay $50,000. At 35-to-1, that's about $1,500.

In principle, you can also play blackjack, baccarat, or other games with shorter odds, parlaying or sharply progressing your bets; however, the casino may not let you press high enough in these games to fulfill your ambitions, even with a fantastic run of luck. Further, you must be willing to take $20,000 or $25,000 you already won and bet it on the next round -- something few solid citizens with $500 sock drawers have the chutzpah to do.

Conversely, suppose your aim is to play with a healthy bankroll and look for a nominal payoff. Make believe, for instance, you're willing to stake $5,000 shooting for a $200 gain. Now, the odds are comfortably on your side; you're favored almost 5,000-to-200 or 25-to-1. Here, the most promising approach is to focus on games with small inherent swings and low house edge. You can risk a total of $50 to $100 per round on propositions paying modest premiums over 1-to-1, such as pass and come with odds at craps, or $100 to $150 per round in even-money games like blackjack. Bet uniformly in each round, or use a moderate regression -- raising after losses and pulling back when you win. A short run of luck will put you over the top. A long dry spell won't kill you.

Define your aspirations in terms of the associated trade-offs. Then investigate appropriate ways to meet them. Remembering, to be sure, the riddle of the renowned rhymer, Sumner A Ingmark:

Unless you know the object of your drive,
How will you know you're there when you arrive?

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.